Floodgates, crying gulls, the odd fish or two (Or: any ... Floodgates, crying gulls, the odd fish or

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    Floodgates, crying gulls, the odd fish or two

    (Or: any minute i’m going to sing)  

    The first thing she does when she closes the door behind her is to fling herself across the bed.

    She hasn’t really looked at the room; already she knows it is exactly what she needs. Flat on her

    back starring at the ceiling, she wonders by this time tomorrow, when she packs up her

    belongings and calls for a cab home, if she’ll remember each small crest of plaster above her

    head. How they shift about; she might imagine wandering along an empty shoreline counting

    ribs of sand, the gulls oddly quiet, the sea-wind non - existent. It’s morning, afternoon, evening;

    it doesn’t matter. She’s alone in this grand space; she can turn back the clock on the tabletop;

    she can keep the curtains drawn, the lights on or off; her choice.

    She is deliciously alone until she opens the hungry jaws of her laptop computer, turns on its

    switch, and brings it to life with the touch of her finger. She marvels at the power of fingertips:

    small circles of flesh tapping out bits and pieces of words and phrases, stories that belong to her

    characters, lives she (re)creates tapping on keys. Sometimes she believes it’s the sound of a

    roaring stomach – hers, the computer’s, Katherine’s, the woman in her story who has refused to

    eat now for some pages – as if the weight of the world is great enough and she won’t add to it. If

    only words could fill the void between her world and the characters she writes -- like a good

    meal, a long drink, the writer needs satisfying. She needs to get to know her heroine, to convince

    herself she might also return to 1900, kick her heels on the floor and listen to their dull thud on

    the carpet. Solid she thinks: this can’t deter ghosts floating between walls, drifting room to

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    room, walking across ceilings, sitting cross-legged on floors, stretching out long tongues teasing

    her to get on with her story. Just say it, say it, do!

    Here at last, within the walls of a luxurious hotel room anything is possible: to escape the here

    and now, to enter the then. To do this over and over until she gets it right, until the story is --

    She’s convinced when this happens she can rest before the next character cries, before it spreads

    itself across her page: an ink blot; what is beautiful? What is old? Both offer themselves to her as

    if they need sorting, putting in the right place; they need to be listened to, translated. In this

    place of travellers and restless spirits, the writer absorbs the room’s energy, imagines what if

    what if what if– she might wish to remain listening to the voices, shadows of what was, what

    might be. Why choose one life, one story, when there are so many? To revisit, to string them

    together and then, what do you get?

    She had left Katherine by an open window leaning out over the street where she watches young

    boys on bicycles and tenants in nearby hotels or flats sucking heavily on cigarettes, their words

    rising towards her in a plume of smoke. The smokers seem to stare directly at her, almost

    through her, yet, they do not see the young woman in a black overcoat, for she hasn’t removed it;

    she hasn’t sat down, or ordered tea. It seems the right thing to do -- to order tea, to look out the

    window, to wonder what to do next. She removes a rather crushed handkerchief from her coat

    pocket, holds it her to nose, pauses, blows into it (although she seems to have nothing to blow

    out) wipes her nostrils (there is nothing to wipe), sniffs loudly, and plunges her handkerchief

    back into her pocket.

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    In several minutes there will be a familiar knock on the door. The writer will open the door to

    Robert, a tall, exceedingly handsome man with dark features and large brown eyes. He will be

    standing behind a serving cart where a white ceramic teapot, a china flowered teacup and saucer,

    and small blue pitcher of milk lay waiting to be used. She will decline the sugar, small wrappers

    propped up against each other thinking they need room to move about in the bowl; they need to

    find a sense of themselves, to detach each from the other.1

    But she won’t look at the bowl; she’ll hand it back to the server right away, just as he’s turning

    from her she’ll say, excuse me sir, I couldn’t possibly. . . She’ll feel foolish, she won’t look at

    him after she’s spoken, but she will have said it. She never takes sugar. (She does however, in

    another story take Robert many, many times1) It’s her fear of getting fat, of taking up so much

    space she might never fit her bones and imagines her skin stretched so thin over her bones she

    becomes transparent, Like the woman on the cover of Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own she

    must set her jaw firmly, she must resist speaking her own words, she must listen for the voices to

    fill her mouth with sound and story. But who wants to tell? Which one? Each to the other and all

    at once. What if, what if what if --

    She must share her tea. Placing her hands around the teapot’s white body, her palms gently touch

    its surface, first one hand, then the other. She thinks of the sparrow she held yesterday, its neck

    broken, its head dangling as she lifts it from the welcome mat and places it in her hands, the cat,

    watching her, steps from the shadows to show itself, holds up its head as if to say, this is for you,

    a gift –

    And now giving her tea to the small ever-shrinking creature who has only just pretended to blow

    her nose, she thinks, what’s next? Will Katherine, to relieve the boredom she must feel feign

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    unconsciousness? Will she swoon to the floor gracefully, one gloved hand above her head, the

    other beside it in a dramatic pose?1

    No, there is tea seeping and a lovely cup and saucer. She pauses balancing the cup in the saucer

    and gazes into the amber liquid swishing it round its rim as if she might find something,

    someone, there. Robert, she says aloud. (She knows she’s pathetic to think of him. She’d like to

    let him go. Why won’t he let her go?) But there is just one cup. She hasn’t been thinking.1 Oh,

    Robert, Robert she moans. She knows it is very rude to ask for just one cup, when Katherine,

    arriving cold and damp and so very tired, might appreciate something warm. She wouldn’t blame

    Katherine for not speaking, for refusing to do anything, anything at all under these

    circumstances. Must she give Katherine her tea? No, she won’t.

    Katherine’s hand remains around the handkerchief in her pocket; she has not been given anything to do. She opens her

    mouth, closes it, takes her hand from her pocket, turns from the writer and sinking into a chair by the window, rests her

    chin in her hands as if she is pushing it shut, as if she can prevent what might come pouring out if she were to open it.

    Floodgates, crying gulls, the odd fish or two.

    Katherine looks as if she might cry. Her eyes begin to water.

    The writer pondering this last bit – the meaning of Katherine’s tears, gulps her tea too quickly

    and scalds the roof of her mouth. Perhaps Katherine’s been jilted? Ditched? Abandoned? Her

    fiancé has left her in a foreign country; she hasn’t much money and she’s wondering how, if

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    ever, she can possibly face her family and friends after they warned her about men like him. . . She

    hears them questioning the appropriateness of her departure; a girl of her position, a wealthy father, a well-connected

    family. She’d be throwing away her future, and for what? To leave her party suddenly after having unwrapped her

    gifts, to hurry up the stairs to her room, to return to her guests in the parlour with a suitcase, her coat, hat and gloves

    slung over her arm, and the taxi already waiting outside the house. To say, “I have a ferry to catch at half past four”

    and then hours later, leaning over the boat’s rail, watch the shore and all that she knows get smaller and smaller until

    soon she doesn’t recognize anything at all; it’s one big blur and then nothing but wind and water and salt stinging her

    eyes and lungs.

    Has she learned regret? Where is her young man? Has she a young man? No, the writer won’t

    give her one. Katherine needs to be independent. Not victim, never, but heroine.

    Katherine doesn’t know what it is to be hungry, how she’ll flirt for her dinner, or melt the eyes of whoever pays for

    dinner as if to say, “yes, yes I don’t mind if you do –.“ She’ll sing a song just a little too loudly leaning over the

    piano so that her blouse gapes and there is the possibility one might see her undergarments. Once, just once, she

    convinces herself that because he is older an